II How to choose your faith: What do you want?
A "Believe" has at least two meanings.
1 The simplest is merely to agree that something is true.
2 + 2 = 4. If you don’t believe it, try it.
This chair exists and will hold me up if I sit on it. We can see and feel it, and many have sat on it safely.
Antarctica exists. We have not seen it (at least very few of us have), but we believe those who say they have been there, and we believe the pictures they show us are not fake. We could go if we really decided to.B Many opinions
The earth is round. We can’t see the roundness, but we believe airplanes fly around the world and astronauts have seen that it is round and took the pictures they show us. It is not totally impossible for anyone who wishes to become an astronaut and see for himself or herself.
People of the past existed: Sun Yat-Sen, George Washington, Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar, Confucius,... It is impossible to go back in time to verify these people’s existence. This is historical truth, and we believe it because it is the only reasonable explanation of the records we have.
God exists. We may simply accept this as a fact, but still not know Him or trust Him. Most people consider God’s existence as unobservable, something that is a part of religious faith, but in itself it is a simple question of fact, on which we have our own opinion and basis for it.
Nearly everyone agrees to moral standards, but many people believe them only as an abstract ideal for society in general, but not for themselves whenever it is inconvenient or unprofitable.
2 “Believe” has a second meaning, which is deeper, and includes what is called “religious faith.” This is what we do when we take action or make a commitment of ourselves and things that are important to us. This is trusting and relying on someone.
When you ride an airplane, you trust the pilot, crew, and repair staff. Many people say they believe airplanes are safe, but they are afraid to fly on one.
When you put your savings in the bank, you trust the people who work there.
When you really obey a moral standard, you believe it is good for you and others, even if the immediate visible results seem unfavorable.
When you obey God’s commands and principles, and believe He is caring for you and guiding you, you trust Him. This gives a basis for moral convictions.
3 So-called “liberal Christianity” is the belief that the Bible was written only by the authors themselves, and is a part of the development of culture. This leaves the connection between the Bible’s contents and God (if He exists) uncertain, and its teachings are not necessarily all true. Therefore we can select the parts we accept and the parts we do not. Liberal Christians talk explicitly about their own “faith” and Biblical teachings as being something that was produced and chosen by human thought, yet they proceed in the next breath to profess to believe it and find it highly meaningful. After listening to many such discussions, the logic of this still totally escapes me, and I feel this attitude cannot be considered as “believing.” See ch. 4, “Logical problems.”
There are many opinions about religious faith. We cannot avoid choosing one. This is the most important decision of our life; it controls all our other decisions. How can we know which religion(s) is (are) true? Or are they all false? Here are some common and popular (politically correct) choices. They are based on different assumptions, or paradigms, which are often accepted unquestioningly as self-evident, unaware that alternatives even exist (see ch. 2, II).If you tell these people that this is what they are doing, it will probably not make them change their mind. In fact they may become angry. But at least knowing this can help Christians understand what other people are doing. Christians should not feel guilty or ashamed, thinking they are being intolerant if they continue to believe Christianity. They should not feel that other religions are more tolerant than Christianity is. Everyone is narrow-minded about his or her opinions, and this is unavoidable, in fact desirable. Not to know what you think is to be bordering on insanity or mental disability. We should admit we are all narrow and intolerant, and then respectfully exchange our opinions and the reasons for them. But it is hypocritical to hang a label of broadness on something that is in fact very narrow.1 “All religions tell us to do good, have peace of mind, and promote social harmony. This is what is important. If there is a God, he surely will accept people who are like this.”This view deals with the purpose and personal effect of faith.
This person says that nothing is important beyond this world and this life; are we sure of that? That is a very large assumption, not at all obvious or necessary, requiring a strong basis. Is there any basis? If we are sincerely, open-mindedly wanting to know whether there is a God, and if so, what He requires, then we should see if He has told us. If we think He must do as we think He should, we are actually saying there is no God at all or a very stupid one with no opinions of His own.
This approach is not even realistic about people in this world. Who has really done good, had peace of mind, and promoted social harmony? This is discussed further in ch. 4, II, B.
The Bible says all roads do lead to God, in the sense that everyone will someday face Him. But most people will meet Him as Judge. It is only by believing Jesus that we can become a friend of God, in fact a child of God, and meet Him as Father.2 “All roads lead to God if there is a God. I believe all religions; they all worship the same God. Be broad-minded, tolerant, comfortable, popular. Find what works, what is true for you. Don’t try to change others’ beliefs and impose your beliefs on them. Doing that is narrow and intolerant, rejecting other people and cultures, especially if it is your own original cultural background, family, and friends. Don’t cause family disharmony and disrespect. If our family and friends will be in hell, then we should be there with them. Why does the Bible say that God is so narrow, that He created us, gives us commands, and will judge us?”This view overlaps with the first but emphasizes a more philosophical and interpersonal aspect.
It is rejecting what the Bible says, and it is trying to change Christians’ beliefs. In saying the Bible should not say others are wrong, they are saying the Bible is wrong. In saying the Bible is true for me but not true for them, they are insisting that I accept that statement as true for me. The statement “That is true for you but not true for me” is true for you but true not for me. This claims to be a tolerant opinion, but it is actually self-contradictory, narrow and intolerant.
Followers of the various forms of pantheism usually take this kind of position. It is mistaken to say that pantheist religions are tolerant of other religions; they are not. They assert their teachings very plainly, do not accept different teachings, but only teach tolerance of other people, which the Bible also teaches. To see how really tolerant they are, see how they react when one of their friends or family decides to become a Christian. Notice the world conferences that have been held by these religions specifically about how to combat the inroads of Christianity, and instead to make inroads into Christianity. They say they believe Jesus, but the Jesus they believe is in fact a Hindu/Buddha-ized version of Jesus, not the Biblical one, so they do not really believe the Bible or its Jesus at all. In some cases Buddhist and Hindu leaders have admitted that they never were really tolerant.
In a final ploy to pose as tolerant, many pantheists deny the very basis of logic, asserting that truth is many-sided and contradiction is acceptable, in other words that a statement and its opposite can both be true. But even this does not evade taking a narrow position; it is denying the Biblical teaching that some things are truth and all others are falsehood. Actually, this is not just a Biblical teaching; the ancient Greeks stated this as the law of non-contradiction, and it is simply the minimum requirement for logical deduction and meaningful communication. If this is abandoned, anything can mean anything; for example the person who says all beliefs are equivalent could really mean that they are all mutually exclusive. But if you tell him that might be what he means, he will strenuously insist that that is not true! Which is of course contradicting what he just said, demonstrating that it is impossible to really believe it or mean it.
Believing all religions is believing none of them. Accepting Christianity as “one of many true religions” is rejecting it, because it claims to be the only true way to God as Father. If it is not the only way, it is false; it cannot be one of many ways. A “tolerant” Christianity, which is the professed position of most liberal Christians, is not Christianity at all, because it rejects the teaching of Christ. It is a philosophy dishonestly borrowing the name of Christ. Liberal Christianity is further discussed in ch. 4, I.
The gods of different religions are different; how can they all be the same god? Only the God of the Bible created everything including us, and offers a relationship with Him on the basis of faith alone. If someone says the god they worship is different from that, then he is not worshipping the same god. If you describe your wife as being a short, pretty blond who likes pizza, but your wife is in fact a tall, pretty brunette who hates pizza, she will say you are talking about another woman, express considerable interest in determining her identity, and accuse you of having an affair! That is exactly the terms in which God describes those who worship different gods. See also C, 2 below, and ch. 4, II, about narrowness.
If we disagree with a person’s religious belief, that need not mean we reject the person himself; we disagree with our friends about many things, and discuss the reasons for our opinions, and still are friends. Christians have something they believe is good for everyone, and want to share it with others. This shows acceptance, not rejection. If we rejected others, we would not care about them, and would just ignore them.
The Bible’s rejection of other religions does not mean total rejection of any culture. Culture consists of many patterns of behavior and relationships, most of which have no conflict with the Bible. There is no such thing as a Christian culture, only cultures that are more or less consistent with the Bible. Culture is an expression of the creativity which God gave us, and should be valued, except when there is a conflict between a particular aspect of that culture and His ways. God created people in such a way that they form groups and relationships that naturally develop culture, but God’s authority is higher than any culture.
This applies especially to our own family and friends. The Bible does not teach us to oppose them. It teaches us many times to respect and care for our family, especially to respect our parents. But God wants us to love Him most of all, as our highest, heavenly Father. Because we love Him and belong to Him, we should become able to love them more than before.
In a sense God removes us from our earthly family into His family, but then He sends us back to our family to love and care for them for His sake, more than we were able to before. It is absolutely necessary to become a part of a group of others who are in God’s family, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, who can encourage us, counsel us, and pray for us in our relationship with our family.
A Bible reference often misunderstood in this connection is Jesus’ requirement that we “hate… father and mother.” (Luke 14:26) Jesus’ teachings contain many examples of overstatement, or exaggeration, for emphasis, and this is one of them. In many other instances he affirmed the Ten Commandments, including the one to honor father and mother. When in agony on the Cross He still was concerned enough to instruct His disciple John to assume responsibility for His mother Mary. This is a subject worthy of much further study than we can devote to it in this book.
If our family members choose to become our enemies because of our faith in Jesus, that is their choice, not ours. We do not leave them. We are not their enemies. If they persist in rejecting God, and force us to make a choice between them and God, then although it breaks our heart we can only place God first. He came before our earthly ancestors, and loves us even more than they possibly could. If they choose to be separated from God forever, that will also be separation from us, in hell. That is all the more reason to keep expressing concern for them, and trying to lead them to join us in God’s family.
We should not consider whether it would be better to be at peace with them now rather than at peace with God, or after death to be with them in hell rather than with God in heaven. God of course deserves to be our first priority.
But do we really even have these two options? Does any family really have peace? Even without differences of religious faith, wherever there are people there are usually conflicts. God gives peace in our heart that enables us to do better at facing and solving the conflicts that occur in life. Also, it is uncertain whether we have the possibility of being with them in hell. The Bible does not reveal very much about hell, except that it is a place of pain and remorse. If people are able to communicate with each other there, they must forever be selfish, increasingly so, and this is one of the terrors of hell. Or perhaps in mercy God does not permit them to communicate, so even if we went there we would not be with them.
In the Bible, Luke 16, Jesus describes a rich man in hell, who hopes someone will warn his still-living brothers to avoid going to hell too. Interestingly, he is able to communicate this wish to Abraham and a man with Abraham who was a beggar at the rich man’s door during his earthly life, even though Abraham and the former beggar are not in a condition of torment. This tells us that our relatives in hell hope we will avoid going there, and do not hope we will join them. If we really respect them, we should obey their wishes and avoid hell by trusting in Jesus to save us. See also sec. VI below, about dead people’s spirits.
In times of conflict with others who oppose our Christian faith, we must remember that we are also in a conflict along with God against Satan and evil spirits, and these spirits are often a great influence in the irrational hatred people express toward Christ and Christians. We must not fear, but resist, this spiritual power. Again, see sec. VI.
Although I am arguing that to be a Christian does not require a person to be narrow, intolerant, and reject other people and cultures, I must admit that many Christians do reject other people for various reasons, and this is wrong. The Bible does not tell them to do this. They should admit they are wrong, and stop it. This was a common mistake of earlier Western missionaries who considered their culture to be a “Christian” culture and rejected almost everything about other cultures. We all tend to feel that others who are different from us are therefore wrong; Christians are just still human! But it is also true that Christian missionaries have been leaders in studying and protecting many cultures and languages which are threatened by political and economic development.
Asking why the Bible says God is so narrow is asking the wrong question. The correct question is, “Is it true?” which is discussed in Sec. C below.
3 “I can’t believe until I understand completely.”This is impossible, and if it were possible it would not be faith. In everyday life, we should wait until we have enough reason to believe something, and then must believe it even though we do not have complete understanding or certainty: friendships, purchases, etc. Incomplete certainty is not complete uncertainty. If we insisted on absolute certainty, all of life would come to a screeching halt.
4 “Don’t try to understand at all. Just experience your religion, feel it, use your intuition.”This is the opposite extreme. What difference is there between this and superstition? What protection is there from deception?
We must find a balance between these two extremes, using our mind appropriately but recognizing its limitations. Lack of complete understanding is not complete lack of understanding. This is discussed later, in the section on the relationship between logic and faith, and a number of other places; it a basic theme of this book.
C The correct question: Is it true?
When choosing your faith, the correct question is not “Does it sound pretty? Is it tolerant? Does it make me comfortable? Why does the Bible say God is like that?” The correct question is “Is it true?” This is a matter of both fact and relationship.
1 A question of fact.To state that there are no facts is to state a fact. When someone says there is no absolute truth, we must ask in response “Absolutely none?” This is an obviously, blatantly self-contradictory position, yet it is held, or at least professed, by many of the world’s most brilliant people.
Facts are narrow. For example, the laws of physics are very precise and narrow. A physics professor who taught a broad-minded approach to the laws of nature would quickly be fired.
A lot of truth is narrow and uncomfortable, therefore we do not run through red lights without looking, go to sleep on railroad tracks, drink poison, etc.
Would you cross a bridge designed and built by a tolerant engineer who says it doesn’t matter how it is built and what materials are used?
Would you go to a handsome, pleasant, tolerant doctor who says it doesn’t matter what illness you think you have, or what medicine you take, all you need is to be sincere? Or would you rather have an ugly, unpleasant doctor who says you are dangerously ill and tells you what you must do to regain good health? When the doctor says you need surgery immediately, you don’t complain that he is not handsome, or his voice is unpleasant, or his opinion is too narrow. You need to know whether he is right.
Suppose you have discovered a cure for cancer. But when you try to tell people about it, many of them become angry, and say you are proud and narrow-minded. Perhaps you have discovered that the cause of cancer is something which is very common and is the basis of a large industry, whose collapse would cause great economic hardship to many people and even nations. Also, your discovery will cause great hardship to many people involved in producing and applying the currently accepted treatments for cancer; probably a number of companies will suddenly collapse the moment you announce your discovery. Should you still try to tell everyone about it? This is very similar to the experience of the doctors who first discovered and advocated principles of sanitation in hospitals, in maternity wards and in surgery. Other doctors ridiculed and rejected them, causing many unnecessary deaths, and great sorrow to the doctors who knew better. At least one of them committed suicide in his grief and despair.
Many primitive people have customs that are very unsanitary, spreading diseases that kill many of them, especially their newborn infants. Poor nutrition also weakens their resistance. But when you try to tell them to change their customs, they get angry. Many of these customs are connected with their religion, so you are trying to change their religion. They believe that disease is caused by spirits. They do not believe you when you talk about nutrients, germs and viruses that they cannot see. They think you are stupid, crazy, and proud. Should you still try to find a way to convince them?
The God of the Bible says we have a sickness called sin, and the only way to avoid dying with this sickness is to cut out our present value system and let Him give us a newone. The important question is not whether this is tolerant or popular or pleasant, but whether it is true.
Why should religious truth be broader than truth in other subjects? Wouldn’t it be strange if one part of reality were so much different from other parts? But we must be cautious in attempting to transfer principles between different parts of reality; see ch. 5, VI, D.
2 A question of relationshipOur choice of faith is also a matter of relationship. If there is a true God who is our Creator, then He has a unique relationship with us. Anyone else who interferes with that relationship is wrong, and we are wrong to accept a relationship with anyone else as our God. You can only have one father and mother, and they will be both sad and angry if you call others your father and mother and thank them for things he and she gave you. A boyfriend and girlfriend, or a husband and a wife, are very narrow-minded about the relationships their mates should have with others. In the Bible, God often uses the father (and mother)-child relationship, and husband-wife relationship, to explain the relationship we can and should have with Him. Worshipping other gods is described as spiritual adultery, an affair. In fact, God probably created us with family relationships in order to help us understand our proper relationship with Him. Any other spirit that wants our worship is an impostor; see Sec. VI below.
This is the reason why it is not sufficient merely to believe in the existence of God. Type 1 belief (sec. II, A) is not religious faith. It is not sufficient in any religion, especially not for the God of the Bible. Many people’s attitude seems to be “I believe that God exists,” with the unstated assumption that “He couldn’t expect more of me, could He? Isn’t that enough?” Is it enough in human relationships? What constitutes a healthy parent-child relationship? Suppose you enter an outstanding university, graduate at the top of your class, win a Nobel prize the year after you graduate, live a good life, become rich and famous, make a great contribution to society, and talk about your parents’ existence and good qualities, but for twenty years you never visit them, write to them, phone them, or remember their birthday. Will they be satisfied? Will your mother say “My child believes I exist. I’m so moved!”? That is the way many people treat God, and they think He should be satisfied!